SHOULD THE MASS PUBLIC FOLLOW ELITE OPINION? IT DEPENDS . . .
ABSTRACT: John Zaller’s finding that members of the public usually follow
elites’ cues may seem normatively disturbing. If true, it might be taken to obviate
the need for democracy or to show that elites are manipulating the public.
However, as long as the public sometimes fails to follow elites, we can judge cases
of public followership according to independent criteria, such as whether the
public’s occasional rebellions against elite opinion further liberal-democratic or
utilitarian purposes. A review of some prominent cases of mass followership of and
mass divergence from elite opinion suggests that public opinion that is independent
of elite leadership is neither an unmitigated good nor an unmitigated problem for a